Why you should start taking magnesium today

Because magnesium is maybe the most important mineral for plant and animal life on Earth. Because magnesium is certainly one of the essential minerals most deficient in our food. And because we are all magnesium deficient.

Magnesium was the key element in the evolution of plant life on Earth as it is the heart, the central ion of chlorophyll—the plant’s photosynthesising lifeblood. I was amazed when I learnt that chlorophyll and haemoglobin have identical molecular structures, only that chlorophyll has magnesium at its heart, while haemoglobin has iron. This does indeed seem amazing at first, but upon reflection, it seems quite natural, as we can be pretty sure that this is not an evolutionary coincidence since simple cellular life came first, then plant life—obviously dependent on the simplest forms of life, and then animal life—which is completely dependent on plant life.

The human body is about 70% water by weight, with about 2/3 inside our cells and 1/3 outside; the dry weight of a 70 kg person is about 20 kg. So we can say that the rest of our weight is various arrangements of naturally occurring elements. But of the 92 naturally occurring elements, a mere 7 of them make up 99% of the body’s total mineral content. These essential macrominerals are, in order of abundance: calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, sodium, magnesium, and chloride (chlorine gas dissolved in water).

Calcium is the most abundant and it must be in balance primarily with phosphorus for proper physiological function, but also with magnesium. Phosphorus is the second most abundant, and, present in every cell of the body, it plays a role in almost every chemical reaction. Potassium and sodium work together in their most notable function to transport nutrients into cells and metabolic waste out of them. And hence, potassium is the most abundant element inside the cell, in the intracellular fluid, while sodium is the most abundant element outside, in the extracellular fluid. Sodium is also the primary element on which rely the kidneys for regulating the amount of water in the blood and bodily fluids in general. Chloride works with its siblings potassium and sodium in their role as fluid and acid-base regulators, but it is also the essential element in hydrochloric acid secreted in the stomach to break down proteins into amino acids. Sulphur is necessary for the formation of hair, nails, cartilage and tissue. It is needed for metabolism and a healthy nervous system, plus it aids bile secretion in the liver.

Why so important?

Among these 7 macrominerals, however, magnesium is king. It is second most abundant element inside cells after potassium, and even though it totals only around 25 g in the average 70 kg human body, (more than half of it stored in bones and teeth, and the rest in muscle and soft tissues), it plays a role akin to that of a conductor in regulating the absorption and excretion of many of its sibling macrominerals, both in the intestines and in our cells. Of the multitude of functions it plays, magnesium is involved as a necessary co-factor on which more than 300 essential metabolic enzymatic reactions depend; it is crucially needed for structural function of proteins, nucleic acids and mitochodria; it regulates production, transport, storage and utilisation of energy in cells; it regulates DNA and RNA synthesis, cell growth and cell reproduction; and it regulates nerve function throughout the body.

But certainly most noteworthy, and indeed very important for the vast majority of us magnesium-deficient humans, is that magnesium is what allows muscles to relax: every single muscle cell in our body depends on magnesium to release a contraction instigated by calcium, magnesium’s antagonist brother. Going further, only magnesium can inhibit calcium-induced cell death: only magnesium regulates entry, and can thus prevent calcium from flooding a cell to trigger apoptosis (programmed cell death). It is for these two reasons that magnesium is so much more important than calcium. Sadly, we are as over-calcified—caked stiff with calcium from the inside out—as we are magnesium deficient. And that’s bad news because the more over-calcified the body grows, the more magnesium deficient it becomes. In addition, as important as it is to optimise vitamin D status, it is now clear that this cannot be done without at the same time optimising magnesium status (1).

And in practical terms, what does this mean for you? It means that most modern diseases and conditions are either a direct consequence of or severally aggravated by magnesium deficiency. It means that of all the heart attacks and strokes that claim the lives of most people in industrialised countries, it’s estimated that more than half are caused by magnesium-deficiency. It means that hypertension, poor circulation, water retention, osteoporosis, kidney stones and kidney disease are all caused or severely aggravated by magnesium deficiency. It means that arterial plaque buildup (atherosclerosis), arterial wall thickening and stiffening (arteriosclerosis), cardiac arrhythmia and palpitations, headaches and migraines, anxiety, irritability, insomnia and depression are all caused or severely aggravated by magnesisum deficiency. It means that from the seemingly most benign, occasional involuntary twitching of the eye, or the cramp in your foot, calf or hamstring that just seems to you as a brief nuisance unworthy of attention, to the cardiac arrest or stroke caused by a prolonged spasm of a coronary or cerebral artery that can claim your life in a few instants or leave you paralysed and debilitated for the rest of your life, to chronic anxiety, occasional panic attacks, recurring depression, bipolar or schizophrenic disorders, all of these health problems and hundreds more are caused or severely aggravated by magnesium deficiency. Insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes are also intimately related to magnesium deficiency as it is this mineral that allows insulin to transfer its cargo of glucose from the bloodstream into the cell.

Like many other realities of our world in the realm of medical sciences and treatment of disease, that this can be so—that we can be in such a dire situation of global magnesium deficiency—is truly mind-boggling given the ease with which it can be both prevented and remedied. But for this one as well as so many other such logic-defying realities in today’s medical and health sciences, ignorance is the major hurdle, but the power of the politics of profits cannot be underestimated, and should not be ignored or overlooked.

Why so magnesium-deficient?

Very unfortunately for us, agriculture is not, and to a great extent, never has been as it should rightly be—feeding and enriching the soils and the land, while at the same time producing from it, foods with the perfect balance of minerals, vitamins and phytonutrients in an amazing and unique positive balance process, ultimately based on a remarkably efficient harnessing of the Sun’s energy by the grass and soil. Instead we have an agricultural system that globally pollutes the waters with toxic runoffs, depletes the soils with chemical herbicides, pesticides and Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium or NPK fertilisers, all of which help to slowly but surely sterilise the earth’s surface.

Now, to give you a sense of the scale of the problem of soil mineral content depletion, as far back as 1936, a hearing was held in the 74th US Senate Congress where the following statement was made:

“Do you know that most of us today are suffering from certain dangerous diet deficiencies which cannot be remedied until depleted soils from which our food comes are brought into proper balance? The alarming fact is that foods now being raised on millions of acres of land that no longer contain enough of certain minerals are starving us—no matter how much of them we eat. Our physical wellbeing is more directly dependent upon the minerals we take into our systems than upon the calories or vitamins or upon the precise proportions of starch, protein or carbohydrates we consume (my italics). Laboratory tests prove that the fruits, the vegetables, the grains, the eggs, and even the milk and the meats of today are not what they were a few generations ago. No man today can eat enough fruits and vegetables to supply his stomach with the mineral salts he requires for perfect health.”

And you can be sure that the situation has gotten worse since then—much, much worse. Just to illustrate the point, all chemicals, whether they are those found in fertilisers, in herbicides or in pesticides, contribute to magnesium wasting. Pollutants in the air that fall back down in the form of acid rain waste magnesium stores because it is simultaneously a potent acid buffer and the most water-soluble of the macrominerals. Therefore, it is also the most affected by acid rain and runoffs saturated with agricultural chemicals.

To make matters worse, any processing of a food in its natural form, will most effectively deplete its magnesium content. Here again this is due to magnesium’s super water solubility. Such that with every step of processing, more magnesium is lost from the already magnesium deficient food. The result is that all processed foods are basically devoid of it. Fluoride, the reactive industrial by-product and poison that is put into many municipal drinking waters under the false pretence that it is good for the teeth, seeks out minerals like magnesium, and by binding to them makes it impossible for the body to absorb or use. (This is just one of the many, well researched and well documented negative effects of water fluoridation. See the Fluoride Action Network for plenty more details.)

And the last straw in this magnesium-depleting scenario is our own evermore stressful lifestyle. Always more stress: stress related to the economic situation in our country; stress related to the stability of “The Market”; stress related to the economic stability of our company; stress related to the security of our own job; stress related to our professional and therefore social status; stress related to worries about our kids’ wellbeing, happiness, social development, about their future; stress related to all those deadlines we have to meet, and to those that we set ourselves for our personal projects that somehow always slip to the bottom of the pile of books sitting collecting dust next to your bed; stress about how to save money for hard times, and about where we will go on our next holiday; and on and on and on. Incredible but true: the more time passes, the more technological advances are made, the more stuff we are able to make and use and buy, the more stress there seems to be in our lives.

And what does stress have to do with magnesium? Very simply: stress depletes magnesium and magnesium deficiency magnifies stress. How do we know this? By doing a simple experiment where adrenaline is introduced in the bloodstream intravenously, and seeing the levels of magnesium drop immediately, together with those of calcium, potassium and sodium. Stop the adrenaline and they start to make their way back up, but unfortunately, is takes magnesium the longest to recover to physiological concentrations. But the fact is that every time we feel any kind of stress, adrenaline triggers our fight-or-flight response, in which the heart starts pumping, digestion is stopped as blood is diverted from the digestive system to the arms and legs, blood also thickens by the release of clotting factors to prevent excessive blood loss in case we get injured, glycogen stores are released from the liver to be made available as glucose for immediate energy use in the heart, lungs and muscles, and yes, all of these processes are intensely magnesium-dependent, and at the same time, intensely magnesium-depleting.

In short, almost all soils on agricultural land everywhere are magnesium deficient, some totally depleted, others just greatly depleted. All foods grown in these soils are inevitably also magnesium deficient, and in some cases even more due to the excess potassium in the chemical fertilisers that prevent the plant from taking up magnesium. All processing of food further depletes magnesium, and our crazy and sickly addiction to stress delivers yet another blow—a final blow. We—all of us—really are magnesium deficient. And many of us severely so. For this reason we all need magnesium supplementation. And the sooner we start, the better off we’ll be. If you want to know how magnesium deficient you are, order an RBC Mg test (red blood cells hold about 40% of the body stores of Mg): the lab’s reference range can be anywhere from 3.5 to 7, but you want to be at 6.5 mg/dL.

Remarkably easy, extremely safe and incredibly inexpensive

There are several forms of magnesium supplements. Magnesium chloride is the most  completely ionised (with a stability constant of 0), and therefore the most easily absorbable in its ionic form by our cells. This also means that it is super hydrophilic (water-loving) and dissolves instantly when in contact with even a drop of water, so it needs to be kept very dry in a well-sealed bag or container. All the better for us, it also turns out to be very inexpensive (about 6 euros/kg) in the form of white, brittle flakes called Nigari, which is used to make tofu.

To drink your magnesium, dissolve 20 g (4 teaspoons, and 10 cents worth!) in a 1 litre bottle or 30 g (6 teaspoons) in a 1.5 litre bottle. (This makes a 2% solution of magnesium chloride.) Take 50 ml on an empty stomach when you get up in the morning, and again at bedtime. You can dilute this in as much water as you want because it is the total quantity of magnesium that counts, not the concentration of the solution that you drink. At first or when you feel you need more (stressful day, weakness, cold coming on), you should take another 50 ml in the late afternoon when the body is most in need of it. This will supply 360 mg if you take it three times, and 240 mg if you take it twice per day (magnesium chloride is 12% magnesium by weight. Dissolving 20 g in 1 litre gives 2.4 g of ionic magnesium, and dividing this litre in twenty 50 ml doses yields 120 mg per dose. Therefore 3 doses gives 360 mg and 2 doses gives 240 mg).

To absorb your magnesium through the skin, dissolve 20 g in 80 ml of water. (This gives a 20% solution of magnesium chloride—ten times more concentrated than the drinking solution.) Naturally, you can dissolve more magnesium chloride in more water, keeping the same proportions, and storing the solution in a spray bottle. With just 6 sprays on each arm and leg as well as on 6 on your chest and back, you can take up as much as 600 mg of magnesium every day. This is a much more effective way to absorb magnesium because instead of going through the digestive system from which as little as 25% up to 75% of the magnesium will be absorbed depending on many factors but primarily the state of health of your digestive system, which in most of us is appalling, almost all the magnesium is absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream in about 30 minutes. We use both methods at home.

Finally, supplementing with magnesium is extremely safe for the simple reason that it is extremely water soluble: it binds so tightly to water that the magnesium ion forms a hydration shell around itself resulting in a radius 400 times larger than in its dehydrated form. This is unlike any of its macromineral siblings. And for this reason, it is also excessively easy for the body to excrete any excess magnesium either through the urine or in the stools. Therefore, there is virtually no chances of overdosing on magnesium, and no possible negative side effects.

So please, for your own good, for the good of your sons and daughters, husband or wife, ageing mother and father, buy some Nigari at your local natural food store, and start magnesium supplementation for all of them. And for the good of your friends and colleagues, tell them about it and send them this article if they need convincing. (In France, Spain and probably other European countries, we find the Celnat brand 1 kg bag of Nigari. I’ve bought is at Bio-coop stores in Paris, and at Eco-centro in Madrid)

Conclusion: Main points to remember

  1. We are all magnesium-deficient, and many of us, dangerously so. This is due to the severe lack of magnesium in soils everywhere and therefore in the foods we eat, due to the fact that processing of whole foods strips most if not all the magnesium that is present in the unprocessed food, due to the fact that our diet is excessively rich in calcium that must be balanced with magnesium in order not to accumulate in our tissues and stiffen everything from our organs to our arteries and to our brain, and finally due to the excessive stress that we all know to be the most remarkable feature of our modern lifestyle.
  2. Magnesium is absolutely essential for relaxing muscle cells including—and maybe most importantly—the endothelial cells that line our blood vessels. Stiff blood vessels cause high blood pressure. This puts great stress on the kidneys and causes a chain of negative consequences that mould into a vicious cycle in kidney deterioration that eventually leads to failure. In addition, stiff blood vessels causes them to suffer much greater damage, especially at bifurcations where the arteries split into finer and finer arterioles. This damage leads to the buildup of plaque, and then to cardiovascular disease, heart attack,s strokes, Alzheimer’s and dementia.
  3. We all need magnesium supplementation, and fortunately it is easy, cheap and safe because Nigari is an inexpensive, food grade magnesium chloride salt easy to buy in natural food stores, and because magnesium’s ultra water solubility makes it very easy for the body to excrete in the urine and eliminations, which guarantees that that it cannot accumulate excessively. On the other hand, this also means that it takes several months to replenish intra-cellular magnesium levels, and that we need to take it daily.

Probiotics, chlorella and psyllium husks

Essential for building and maintaining a healthy digestive system, it is best to take probiotics and chlorella on an empty stomach, once to several times per day, to maximise the bacterial flora replenishing from the probiotics, and the prebiotic as well as cleansing and heavy metal chelating effects of the chlorella. This way, there is minimal potential damage to the probiotics by acidic gastric juices secreted into the stomach when protein is present.

Psyllium are also good to take on an empty stomach or with foods that are not mineral-rich (as in a coconut milk pudding, for example), in order to maximise their intestinal cleaning and minimise their possible interference with mineral absorption. It is most important for the psyllium husks to be completely saturated with water before taking them to avoid causing cork-like condensations of psyllium husks in the gut.

All supplements should be of the highest quality. I buy probiotics from Prescript-Assist, chlorella from Dr. Mercola, and psyllium husks either whole or powdered but organically grown without pesticides or herbicides from Frontier.

If you have not taken these supplements, then your digestive system will be in dire need of them. It would be best, in addition to the morning probiotics, chlorella and psyllium husks, to take probiotics and chlorella with 500 ml about 30-45 minutes before eating at lunchtime, and again before dinner. After even 1 week, you will feel much better. After about 1 month, you can reduce the frequency to twice per day, and eventually you can take your probiotic only in the morning.

For the chlorella,  it’s important to not take too much at first because the detox could be too fast, and this would stress the body unnecessarily and make you feel unwell as well as make your stools runny. Once you have past the initial detox phase, you can and should take chlorella as often and as much as you want depending both on the circumstances and on your needs.

I, for example, sometimes take at 15 little pellets (3 grams) per day in two or three doses, 30 minutes before meals. But on my weekly, 24-hour fast, (usually on Mondays), during which I only take water and herbal teas, unrefined sea salt and chlorella from Sunday evening after dinner, until Monday evening before dinner, I take at least 30 little pellets (6 grams) of chlorella over the course of the day, and sometimes more. This not only gives the body easily digestible essential amino acids, but also supplies a lot of essential minerals, chlorophyl, and detox power, which is, after all, the main purpose of the fast.

The quantity of the psyllium husks should be 1 teaspoon per day for the first week. Then 2 teaspoons, and eventually 3 teaspoons per day, but not more: it’s not necessary and this much fibre may stress your digestive system, which is obviously not what you are trying to do. After a month, you should reduce the quantity of psyllium to one teaspoon per day, and see if you can reduce it further to every other day, depending on the effects on your digestion. I personally usually take 1 teaspoon almost every day to maintain perfect intestinal transit and  stools (regular, easy to pass, and almost nothing to wipe). In any case, you can not do yourself harm by taking psyllium husks with plenty of water on a regular basis (unless you are allergic to it, which is very rare); instead it will be of great benefit.

The best way to know how much and how often you need to take is by carefully monitoring the smell of your breath—it should be fresh and odourless throughout the day and night; the smell of your sweat—it should also be light, not acidic smelling, and basically odourless, even if you don’t shower for a couple of days without using deodorant or perfume; and finally, the regularity, consistency and smell of your solid eliminations—they should not be too hard nor too soft, voluminous, easy to pass, and easy to wipe. Ideal stools pass easily and do not need any wiping. This is what we should strive for by making adjustment to our water intake, cooked versus raw food intake, psyllium and vegetable fibre intake, paying particular attention to the timing of these with respect to one another.

Doing these simple things you will very quickly feel much better, and also begin to notice and understand much more about the natural detox functions of your own body, with its daily cycles as well as with its particularities. In physiological function, we are all basically the same with small individual differences that must be first identified and then tended to with care, patience and attention, being especially mindful of their evolution in time and depending on the changing circumstances. Only we ourselves can really learn how to do this, and so we must if we want to achieve and then maintain optimal health throughout our life, as we age and mature.

Minerals and bones, calcium and heart attacks

Asking Robert Thompson, M.D., author of The Calcium Lie, what causes atherosclerosis and heart disease, he would most likely say that it is the accumulation of calcium in the veins and arteries, but also everywhere else in the body, that leads to a hardening of the tissues, and eventually to the complete stiffening of the blood vessels that inevitably leads to heart attack. He might add that this calcification of the body comes from an imbalance in the amount of calcium that is consumed compared with that of all the other essential minerals required for proper bodily function.

He would also be quick to point out that based on a huge database of about one million results of detailed hair mineral analysis, about 90% of the population is deficient in most if not all elements of the spectrum of essential minerals we need for optimal health, while being over-calcified. Dr Thompson would probably also say that a majority of the conditions that lead to disease, no matter what form it takes, are rooted in mineral deficiencies. Naturally, given that all deficiencies grow with time unless something is done to address the problem, how can this fundamental issue not be related to ageing.

Just as the amount of water in our body and cells tends to decrease with age, so do both bone mineral content and density, as well as the specific hormones like calcitonin and parathyroid hormone. Calcitonin helps fix calcium in the bones, and parathyroid hormone removes calcium from bones when it is required for other purposes. Their main roles is to regulate the amount of calcium to fix in our bones, and their delicate balance depends on factors mostly related to diet and nutrition, but we know that it is intimately linked to Vitamin D levels.

We also know that uric acid tends to accumulate in the tissues throughout the body with time, making every soft tissue stiffer and making our every movement more difficult and painful as we get older, and that an acidic environment tends to leach out minerals from the bones. So what causes bone loss: dropping levels of hormones, dropping levels of Vitamin D, increasing levels of uric acid, increasing mineral deficiencies, all of these, other things?

Thompson repeats throughout his book: “bones are not made of calcium, they are made of minerals”. What minerals? Calcium and phosphorus, yes, but also sodium, sulfur, magnesium, potassium, copper, iodine, zinc, iron, boron, and more. Calcium accounts for about 30% of the mineral content of bone, but phosphate (PO4) makes up about 50% of the bone mass. And in fact, what makes bone hard is calcium phosphate Ca3(PO4)2(OH)2, which immediately shows that it is the balance of calcium and phosphorous intake and absorption—mostly regulated by Vitamin D, which is of vital importance for bone strength and rigidity.

However, it is essential to understand that it is the presence and balance of all of the 84 essential minerals found in unrefined sea or rock salt that are required for optimal overall health, which includes the health of our bones. And remember that table salt contains 97.5% sodium chloride and 2.5% chemical additives, whereas unrefined sea salt from the French Atlantic contains 84% sodium chloride, 14% moisture, and 2% trace-minerals (follow the links to see the chemical analysis of Celtic Sea Salt, Himalayan, and a comparison of the two).

Therefore, one of our primary aims when choosing the foods we eat should be to maximise mineral content. Since Nature’s powerhouses of nutrition, the foods with the highest mineral content and nutritional density are seeds, nuts, sea vegetables, and dark green leafy vegetables, in that order, these are the foods that we should strive to eat as much of as we can in order to always provide the body with maximum amount of minerals that we can. Unrefined sea or rock salt should also be eaten liberally for a total of at least 1-2 teaspoons per day with 2-4 litres of water. (And no, salt does not cause hypertension or any other health problems of any kind, and never has.)

Now, maximising our intake of minerals through our eating of mineral-dense foods, how can we ensure maximum absorption of these minerals? Two key elements are Vitamin D, and fats, especially saturated fats.

Vitamin D is so extremely important for so many things that I simply refer you to the non-profit Vitamin D Council web page for long hours of reading on everything related to Vitamin D. I will just quote the following as an extremely short introduction to it:

Vitamin D is not really a vitamin, but one of the oldest prohormones, having been produced by life forms for over 750 million years. Phytoplankton, zooplankton, and most animals that are exposed to sunlight have the capacity to make vitamin D.

In humans, vitamin D is critically important for the development, growth, and maintenance of a healthy body, beginning with gestation in the womb and continuing throughout the lifespan. Vitamin D’s metabolic product, 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D (calcitriol), is actually a secosteroid hormone that is the key which unlocks binding sites on the human genome. The human genome contains more than 2,700 binding sites for calcitriol; those binding sites are near genes involved in virtually every known major disease of humans.

Vitamin D is one of, if not the most important substance for optimal health. I take between 25000 and 50000 IU per day, which is approximately the amount produced from about 30 minutes of full body exposure to midday sun for a caucasian. But for the purpose of this discussion on minerals and bones, it is enough to know that vitamin D plays an crucial role in regulating how much calcium and phosphorus is absorbed in the intestine and ultimately fixed in the bones.

On fats there is so much to say that it will have to be for another post. You could read The truth about saturated fats by Mary Enig, PhD, on this coconut oil website that has links to many other interesting articles on fats. And remember that coconut oil is by far the best fat to consume, but more on this another time. But once more, the essential thing to remember is that the more fat there is in the intestines, the more minerals (and antioxidants) will be absorbed into the bloodstream.

Now, what is ageing if it is not the gradual decay of the body and its systems. Given that everything in the body is constituted and constructed from the food we eat and water we drink, isn’t it utterly obvious that in order to maintain the bodymind as healthy as possible for as long as possible it is absolutely essential to ensure that it is always perfectly hydrated by drinking plenty of water before meals, maximise the nutrition density and mineral content of the foods we eat, and minimise intake of harmful substances that disrupt or damage the delicate inner workings of this bodymind? I certainly think so.